To celebrate the return of Mr and Ms Foodie (from an 8 week American/South American odyssey) and to mourn the departure of Rose Gold and the Rose Gold BF Experience (they are leaving to live in the UK for 12 months), what has been the standard group of 8 visited Big Els Latin American Fusion in Northbridge. We had been told of the trendy look and powerful flavours waiting within, and while we were happy with some of the dishes, overall I think we'd probably agree it was more of a 'Medium Sized Els' experience.
Overall, I would describe the food as complicated. I'm afraid it has been a few weeks since we visited and I can't unpick the receipt and the photos to identify all of what we ate. Or, at least, I can't work out what was what. Also, although the restaurant can be a tapas joint, we tried to all order our own food and that meant I didn't try everything. I know I've bitched about how I'm not a fan of tapas food, but splitting up tapas meals to enjoy individually didn't really work either. In short, I cannot be contented.
- Peruvian Style Ceviche - This was one of my choices and it was very nice. Not very filling though, so it was another expensive dish that was pleasing to eat but ultimately a $21 warm up into something else. It's not that I'd speak against it, it's just you need to understand this approach is going to get expensive quickly.
- Tempura Jalapeno Poppers - One of Mr and Mrs Foodie's choices. These two can handle their spices (and had been on a beach in Mexico just 24 hours prior - so served as our quality assurance team) and even they said the jalapeños were dangerously hot. Beware.
- Tacos (chicken and beef) - Not sure who ordered these, but I remember they earned some good marks. No real suprises but didn't disappoint.
- Patron Tequila Prawns - I tried the prawns and thought they were quite nice. There is a lot of them though, and so if you order them as an individual dish you will probably be disappointed by what becomes a somewhat bland flavour after the first four or five goes. They're not designed to be eaten that way though, they're a tapas dish, and what I imagine would be a good one.
- Sweet Potato Wedges - these were a crowd favourite. They came recommended to us before our visit and were a hit among all that tried them.
- Vegetarian Nacho Bowl - Madam Rabbit and I shared the vegetarian nacho bowl, and it was ok. It could have done with some more guacamole and it suffered from the age old problem when it comes to nachos, which is, the top corn chips are smothered and the bottom corn chips are just some plain 'ol corn chips. Big Els isn't the only chef to be stung by the nacho dilemma but I figured, if anyone was going to crack it, it would've been this place. Certainly not good, but not bad enough to be proper bad. It was ok.
- Elotes Callejeros - Ok, this one - another dish shared by Madam Rabbit and I - this one was bad. Corn on the cob, which is difficult to eat and so I'm not a fan of it generally, but smothered in butter and spices and what I think was cheese. It was really unappetizing.
- Apple pie nachos - Boring and also kind of shit. It's basically apple pie with a scoop of icecream and some corn chips, none of which were particularly flavoursome. I don't know what I was expecting, but this meal didn't hit the spot.
- Kit Kat & Snickers Chimichangas - I didn't try these, but the reports from Rose Gold, Marmite, Midnight Oil and the Rose Gold Boyfriend Experience were that these deep fried chocolate bars were disappointing and not worth the price. From the looks of the picture I think I can understand it. An insipid presentation, for what I'm told is a plain-Jane dessert.
- Deep fried tequila shots - no-one liked these. I know because once Mr Foodie tried the first one he didn't want any more and shared them around the table. Everyone confirmed they were universally a bad idea and a poor example of the magics of (1) tequila; and (2) deep frying stuff. It wasn't possible to taste tequila at all, meaning you were asked to eat a quarter of a strawberry (if you were one of the lucky four to get one), dipped in some cheap vanilla icecream and then it was all batter batter batter batter batter. Just batter. The meal should be called 'batter and friends'. Very average.
They served drinks there that were presumably South American. We all drank Pacifico beers as Mr and Mrs Foodie said they had been drinking them abroad for the last few weeks and had enjoyed them. Madam Rabbit ordered a pineapple frozen cocktail drink and said it was decent.
The service was poor. One of the guys we had during the night was nice, and seemed to be making an effort. But the two girls we had wanted to be somewhere else. Perhaps Mexico. Or some place that knew how to make delicious desserts.
The strange this is the nice guy made a point to tell us that they normally do 200 covers on a Saturday night with the same team in the kitchen, and because it was empty on a Sunday night we would have no problems with service or our food. And then the food comes out soooo sllooowwwllyy. We were all ready to go until we realised we hadn't received two of our three desserts yet. And then they were terrible to top it all off! Very lame.
The Rose Gold Boyfriend Experience very cleverly observed that it looked like Big Els used to be a Japanese restaurant, as the core of the building seems very Japanese (high wooden arches throughout the hall, low booths along one side of the wall, shoji screen paper sprinkled throughout). I agree with him, it looks like they've taken what I think is a previous Japanese restaurant, thrown up some South American flags, put some Day of the Dead facepainted ladies up on the walls and called it a South American restaurant. Can anyone confirm / deny?
I think it actually kind of works. The flags are a bit tacky, they could take those down and put up more of the murals - which look excellent.
The most important thing is that they didn't have the stupid effing stools, they had very similar chairs with proper back support! The photo below shows how similar these chairs are to the stupid effing stools. I'm extremely happy and encouraged to see these chairs and hope they breed and expand to other restaurants nearby (I wonder whether they can be stacked as efficiently, though. Probably not).
Edit: Since publishing this review it has been confirmed that Big Els used to be a sake bar.
Often I can tell whether I truly like a place (and I'm not just remembering it fondly due to alcohol) by how enthusiastic I am to write up the review. Well this review is now about four weeks old. It's fair to say I didn't enjoy Big Els.
I think perhaps we caught Big Els on a bad night. But then I have to be honest and the simple truth is we didn't really like our time there. We arrived with the right spirit - we were all keen to enjoy a last night out together and get into some South American food, and while there were a few highlights, overall none of us were blown away by their dishes. A few of us had an ok meal, a few felt disappointed, and then some of us left feeling outwardly hostile given what they sold us (those desserts man, wtf).
To top the disappointing food off - the service from the waitresses and from the kitchen was bad. Just plain bad. No two ways about it.
I would go back to Big Els to give them a second chance, though, as there are many more items on the menu and by trying to order our own dishes and not going for a tapas style approach we perhaps made things unfairly difficult for them. I think we would have enjoyed it a bit more had we been on a Friday or Saturday night, ordered a bunch of things (including proper tequila and not tequila in the form of tasteless batter) and leaned into the experience. But that's not what happened. We went on a Sunday night, ordered just a few things, didn't enjoy them, and said Adiós baby.
A (generous) 5 converted Japanese restaurants out of 10